Found in the regions of New Zealand, China, South Africa, Italy, England and USA - and currently mined in Australia - some well-known types include precious or noble serpentine, a pure form marked by an oil-green colour, and the resinous-waxy yellow to yellow-green common serpentine, known as retinalite, and comprising rock-like types.
Serpentine is generally green in colour - though patches or markings of white, black and yellow are not uncommon - and the stone displays a fibrous or greasy appearance. Because of its green hue, it is often mistaken for jade (using names like green jade and new jade); however, serpentine is softer and less dense.
The hardness for serpentine fluctuates wildly and Moh's scale suggests varieties can register between 2.5 and 5.5 due to differing proportions of the mineral's two aggregates. It's not difficult to take a guess at Serpentine's etymology, and unsurprisingly it is a simple combination of the word serpent, meaning snake and the suffix -ine, meaning like. While the origin of the name is in some doubt, one tale suggests it arose from the ancient view that the mineral was a cure for a venomous bite; another suggestion, perhaps more plausible, is that serpentine is named because its dark green blotches are not unlike the skin of a serpent.
Indeed, it's true that Italian peasants believed serpentine pebbles would protect them from the venom of poisonous creatures such as snakes and other insects. The pebbles had to be in a natural state (untouched by iron), or they would lose these properties.
Legends also suggest that serpentine worn around a nursing mother's neck improves milk production, that it balances mood swings, encourages the ability to solve conflicts by peaceful means and helps rid the body of parasites and unhealthy microbes.
Additionally, there have been references that show the gem in use since ancient times as a guard against disease and sorcery.
Serpentine of all colours has been favourably regarded by many civilisations, not only for its power to heal, but also for its beauty as a decorative material.
Vases, boxes, talismans and the pillars supporting buildings have all been made from serpentine and there are records of its use dating as far back as 4000BC, where it was employed in the construction of seals and cylinders by the Assyrians. Then it was known as Za-tu-mush-gir.
The Aztecs were another race that prized all green stones and serpentine was considered a gem of wealth, while Rasputin too was said to favor the gem and requested an entire dinner set be cast from it as a favor for saving the life of a Russian prince.
Perhaps morbidly, the 30th chapter of the Egyptian Book of the Dead is said to be carved from a tablet of serpentine also.
Today, the gem is generally reserved for ornamental use in the western nations, but it remains prominent in countries such as Afghanistan, where it is used in the manufacture of dagger hilts, knife handles, caskets, amulets and other articles.
Hardness: 2.5 - 5.5
Variety of: magnesium hydroxyl silicate
Found: New Zealand, China, South Africa, Italy, England and USA
Modern birthstone - Ruby
Traditional birthstone - Ruby
Mystical birthstone - Ruby
Ayurvedic birthstone – Ruby
Cancer (June 21 - July 22) Emerald / Moonstone / Pearl / Ruby
Leo (July 23 - August 22) Tourmaline / Sardonyx / Onyx